Most Diverse Butterfly Sanctuary in the U.S. Likely to Be Destroyed by Trump's Border Wall
The effects of Trump’s border wall are mostly geared toward illegal immigration, but it also has the potential to hurt ecosystems and tourism in the already impoverished Rio Grande Valley in Texas.
One such victim will likely be the National Butterfly Center located in Mission, the president of the North American Butterfly Association, Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, tells PEOPLE.
More than 240 different species of butterflies — including the threatened monarch and imperiled manfreda giant-skipper — call the sanctuary their home, which makes it the most diverse one in the country, according to Glassberg. The National Butterfly Center’s conservationists earned the title by deliberately populating the 100-acre facility with a range of plants that specific breeds of caterpillars feed on.
“On a good day you can see a cloud of 200,000 butterflies, and that’s what the border wall is threatening to destroy,” Glassberg says.
The White House did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
The precise impact of the wall, whose construction is expected to start in south Texas in February, isn’t known by those who operate the facility, but based on meetings Glassberg has had with federal officials, his primary concern remains. “We know it’s doing to be bad, but we don’t know exactly how bad,” he speculates.
Glassberg has already received confirmation that construction will destroy at least a 150-foot swath south of the wall, eradicating “a huge growth of tree and vegetation on our property … We’ve also heard intonations they will decide to clear everything south of the wall,” which would destroy up to 70 percent of the center, he adds.
Without the center, some 6,000 school children who visit each year would not be able to learn about the local ecosystem firsthand, says Glassberg, and the area — made up of four of the poorest counties in the U.S. — would stand to lose millions of tourism dollars.
In addition, Glassberg stresses that butterflies have a tremendous impact on the environment. “If butterflies are dying off, that’s not a good sign,” he says.
Building a border wall separating the U.S. from Mexico was one of President Donald Trump‘s central campaign promises, and on Tuesday, he sparred with Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over its construction, telling them he’d be “proud to shut down the government” to fund it, Vox.com reported.
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“If we don’t get what we want one way or another… I will shut down the government,” Trump said, according to the outlet. “The people of this country don’t want criminals and people who have lots of problems — and drugs — pouring into our country. I will take the mantle.”
Trump is demanding $5 billion for the wall, while Democrats are offering $1.3 billion for border security in general, reported Vox.com. If the proposed plan is not agreed on by Dec. 21 — the expiration date for some agencies’ government funding — a partial shutdown is possible, according to the Washington Post.
Speaking to reporters outside of the Oval Office, Schumer said of the president, “This Trump shutdown, this temper tantrum that he seems to throw, will not get him his wall and will hurt a lot of people.”
Ahead of the meeting, Trump addressed the funding issue in a series of tweets, claiming that “open borders” bring “large-scale crime and disease.”
He added that he was looking forward to his meeting with Schumer and Pelosi.
According to Vox.com, Trump has already signed several spending bills relating to the wall into law, but there are still seven to be voted on. Since no compromise was reached on Tuesday, it’s unclear if the Department of Homeland Security, which would oversee the construction, will get the necessary cash.